Think Japan, think geisha, shrines, samurai, karaoke, manga, bullet trains, neon lights, tea, sake, sushi, sashimi, tempura, tepanyaki, yakatori, miso, ramen, soba, udon... Foreign food is a huge part of why we travel, especially in Asia; to experience the authentic local specialities, flavours and associated customs. Despite the Japanese word for 'meal' directly translating as 'cooked rice', Japan certainly has a variety of cuisine on offer, and its huge number of Michelin starred restaurants can attest to its quality too. Here is my perfect food day in Japan, if time, geography and a full stomach did not hold me back!
Tip: learn to use chopsticks before travelling to Japan, even before reading on. Vital.
Up and At ‘Em
First things first and that's of course the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo. Get there at 3am for the chance to experience the famous tuna auction, or (particularly if jet lagged) arrive at the more sociable hour of 9am when the wholesale market opens and stroll between the 700 stalls, through which 2,000 tonnes of seafood passes every day, whether it be tuna, crab, squid, octopus, or some other unidentifiable thing with tentacles! The market is abuzz with activity and certainly an exciting start to the day. Explore with your local guide and purchase ingredients for a sushi class later in the day, or simply enjoy your sushi breakfast in the outer market, which originally opened to feed the workers who will already be nearing the end of their working day. *
Snack Break Number Tne
Elevensies is done a little differently in Japan. I would suggest a couple of local oysters as your wander the streets of Miyajima Island among the resident deer, or - my personal favourite - a Hida beef steamed bun in Takayama. These are soft sweet buns filled with hot local minced beef, best enjoyed ducking between sake tastings at the town's many breweries.
Lunch time hits and Hiroshima is the place to be, and Okonomiyaki is the order of the day. Oko-what? The best way to describe it is a pancake omelette noodle dish cooked on a hot plate in front of you. Okonomiyaki. You are welcome.
A Nice Cuppa
It is unlikely you will get this far in the day without being offered green tea, but this cup will be different, as you join a maiko (training geisha) for a tea ceremony in Kyoto, home to some of the few remaining geisha districts in Japan. As you step onto the traditional tatami mat floor and sit across from your host, you realise this will be a unique cultural experience, and one that you won't forget. Tip: learn to like green tea before traveling to Japan, or at least tolerate it. This is almost as important as learning to use chopsticks. They have green tea flavoured everything, including ice cream and Kit-Kats!
Snack Break Number Two
And speaking of ice cream, next on the agenda is a trip to Kanazawa, where you'll find - I kid you not - gold-leaf ice cream. Fancy. This is best enjoyed sitting on a bench in the beautiful Kenrokuen Japanese garden, a welcome break from the bustling cities.
As the evening rolls in, explore Osaka's street food stalls, stopping for an Asahi beer or, for something more upmarket, head right up to a window table on the 52nd floor of the Andaz hotel in Tokyo, the second highest building in the city, in time to watch the sunset and the dazzling city light up. There's only one way up from the second highest, and that's the highest building in the city. Enter the Ritz-Carlton Tokyo, where multiple Japanese dining concepts await for dinner at their Hinokizaka restaurant.
Pass The Potatoes
If after all that fish you feel the need for something a little more… meaty, the New York Grill (made famous by Lost in Translation) is the best in town. Originally Argentinian, the head chef has lived in Japan for years and that combination has given him the basis for knowing everything there is worth know about fusing classic western dishes with Japanese fare.
* The fish market is moving in November 2016 and access rules for tourists are unfortunately likely to change.